Let’s face it- exams are not fun; they’re not fun for you students who have to sit them, they’re not fun for your parents and they are certainly not fun for your teachers or examiners! Exams can cause upset, frustration, anxiety and stress and these feelings do not help the situation either. We all have different ways of dealing with stress, but how many of the methods you currently use have a positive result? When I was younger my way of dealing with stress was slamming doors and shouting at people, and funnily enough I didn’t get much of a positive response! Today I want to give you a few steps to help you deal with stress in a really positive way. These are steps you can use now during your exams or apply to any aspect of your life in general. Known in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as “The Four As”, we’re going to look at Avoid, Alter, Adapting and Accept.
1. Avoid unnecessary stress
Consider applying the following ideas to help you take control of the situation:
- Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them, don’t take on more than you can handle. You’re not superhuman, it’s ok to say “No” once in a while.
- Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t change the relationship itself, limit the amount of time you spend with that person if possible.
- Take control of your environment – If hearing people talk about exams makes you anxious, then politely leave those conversations or share your feelings with people about exams.
- Prioritise – Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts”.
2. Alter the situation
You cannot change other people, but can you improve your role in the situation to make it better in general?
- Express your feelings instead of bottling them up – If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way, there are plenty of organisations which offer confidential and supportive services, speak to a teacher, family member, friend.
- Be willing to compromise – When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same. If you are both willing to change at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground. This could be the case with anyone you want a better relationship with, but be prepared to meet them half way.
- Be more assertive – Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on (in a respectful way), doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. But remember that being assertive is not about winning, but about being heard. Compromise!
- Manage your time better – Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. Failing to plan is planning to fail! No one expects you to spend all day studying, and remember repeating the phrase “I don’t have enough time” doesn’t give you any more time either!
3. Adapt to the Stressor
We can only control the controllable, and there are many things that are out of our control so consider the following:
- Reframe problems – Try to view the stressful situation from a more positive perspective, how would it be if you could see your exams as an opportunity to show off the weeks of hard study?
- Look at the big picture – Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important will it be in the long run? Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? How would someone else deal with it? Have you someone to support you? Have you overcome issues before? Does being stressed help you? What resources have you got to deal with these issues?
- Adjust your standards – Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress and it is irrational. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.” Aim for excellence and not perfection.
- Focus on the positive – When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
4. Accept the things you cannot change
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable – Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behaviour of other people. You cannot control other people you can only control YOUR own reaction and how YOU deal with the situation.
- Look for the upside – As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If you find that you are stressed because of a choice that you made, reflect on that choice and learn from your mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up about it. We all make mistakes, it’s how we learn from them that’s important.
- Share your feelings – Talk to a trusted friend face to face. The simple act of expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation. Opening up is not a sign of weakness and it won’t make you a burden to others. In fact, most friends will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them, and it will only strengthen your bond. Writing has also proved to have such cathartic effects.
- Learn to forgive – Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. A wise man once told me, you can travel around with excess baggage all the time or you can learn to let go and travel with your hand luggage, which as we all know is less cumbersome and less expensive!